During President Barack Obama’s first term, his administration pleased constituents anxious about air quality by setting strict pollution rules, including some that contributed to the closure of more than 100 coal-fired power plants. During his reelection campaign, Obama postponed some environmental decisions that were controversial and expensive.
In 2011, for example, after the Environmental Protection Agency proposed regulations for ground-level ozone expected to cost $90 billion a year, Obama sent the rules back to the EPA for a rewrite. He was concerned, he said, about their “regulatory burdens … particularly as our economy continues to recover.”
With a second term secured, however, Obama and his EPA have less incentive to postpone environmental rules that may burden U.S. industry for decades to come. Here are some imminent policy decisions to watch for:
Since the president rejected the EPA’s earlier proposal, the agency plans to issue a new (presumably less stringent) set of rules in 2013 to govern how much ground-level ozone is permissible in cities and surrounding areas. If a region exceeds its limit, it will have to implement expensive plans to improve air quality.
New rules governing stormwater runoff could require city drainage systems to be retrofitted and might be the most expensive regulations in EPA history, according to a report from Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking member of the Senate’s environmental committee. The rules were due in November 2012 but have been pushed back to June 2013.
Keystone XL pipeline
TransCanada is already building the southern segment of this 1,700-mile project to bring crude oil from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf Coast. Late in 2011, Obama denied State Department approval for the segment that connects to Canada—citing environmental concerns about the proposed route through Nebraska’s Sandhills region. Many analysts expect Obama ultimately to approve the project, perhaps in the first quarter of 2013.
Since the EPA has labeled greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide “pollutants,” the agency has authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate their emissions not just from power plants and cars, but from churches, hospitals, farms, and schools. When fully implemented in coming years, these regulations could cost up to $400 billion annually
The EPA also may soon decide on regulations that would reduce sulfur emissions from gasoline by two-thirds, protect fish in power plant cooling reservoirs, and require farmers to develop plans to prevent oil and gas spills. Under Obama, the EPA has promulgated three dozen major energy regulations (though some were initiated under George W. Bush). Many of those rules will cost the economy more than $100 million a year. No surprise if the next four years are equally burdensome.
Evolutionary geologists are in a new spat over the age of the Grand Canyon. Researchers from the University of Colorado and the California Institute of Technology, writing in Science, say an improved dating technique measuring helium inside crystals suggests the western portion of the canyon is 70 million years old. That’s more than 10 times the age most evolutionary geologists ascribe to the Grand Canyon: 5 or 6 million years. One prominent canyon researcher criticized the new dating as “simply ludicrous.” Both dates sound ludicrous to some creation scientists, who see evidence the canyon was formed a few thousand years ago by a massive flood. —D.J.D.